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REVIEW: The Forester – Blaine D. Arden

The Forester - Blaine D. Arden

Genre: Fantasy, Crime Investigation, Gay Romance

LGBTQ+ Category: Gay, MM, MMM

Get It On Amazon | A Triad in Three Acts

About The Book

Your Path is muddy, Kelnaht, but don’t think avoiding the puddles will make it easier to travel.

Kelnaht, a cloud elf, is a truth seeker caught between love and faith when a murder committed ten days before Solstice reveals an illicit affair between two tree elves he desires more than he can admit. Kelnaht’s former lover Ianys once betrayed him, and the shunned forester Taruif is not allowed to talk to anyone but the guide, their spiritual pathfinder.

When Taruif turns out to be the only witness to the crime, Kelnaht must suppress his forbidden feelings or face the ire of the elders. Ianys is terrified the tribe will blame Taruif for the crime, and despite their painful history, Kelnaht tries to keep his impulsive ex-lover from sacrificing his freedom for an impossible love. If Taruif and Ianys’ affair becomes known, Ianys will lose his daughter.

Kelnaht finds himself yearning to claim both Taruif and Ianys at the coming Solstice and turns to the guide, who gives him only cryptic advice. It is up to Kelnaht to prove Taruif’s innocence and find a path free of puddles and mud for all three of them.

The Review

I just finished reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic sci-fi cli-fi tale New York 2140. I tend to alternate between science fiction and fantasy in my reads, and after such an opus, I needed a good elves-in-the-forest tale to cleanse the palette.  Blaine D. Arden’s “A Triad in Three Acts” fit that to a “T”, especially with the well-drawn gay characters. It was like returning to a warm, comfortable home after a foray into the uncomfortable future.

I’ll be reviewing each of the three parts of this collection as stand-alones – they’re available as individual novellas, and also in this three-story omnibus. I’ll let Blaine give you the overall series description (which I shorthand as CSI Elftown):

Kelnaht, Taruif, and Ianys are meant to be together, but old promises and the decree of the elders prevent them from claiming each other openly at Solstice. Kelnaht can investigate murder and foul play, but he can’t see how he can keep both his lovers without breaking the rules. But if he believes in the guide’s words and trusts his faith in Ma’terra, they will find a way to clear the fog and puddles from their paths.

Now on to the review.

The first book/story is The Forester. All three of these collected tales are told in first person from Kelnaht’s point of view, but somehow this never feels suffocating. Kelnaht is his village’s truth seeker, so when something unexplained happens, he’s called in to figure out the what and the why.

Kelnaht has a crush on the Forester (Taruif), a handsome, older man who has been shunned for the village for a supposed crime he committed several decades before, and the investigation into a mysterious death offers Kelnaht the rare chance to talk (somewhat tongue tied) to the man he has long admired from afar. Complicating matters is Kelnaht’s ex, Ianys, a bisexual elf who left him years before for a woman who bore him a daughter and then died shortly after.

This is a well-told tale. The village is never actually named, but there’s a wonderful cast of characters who populate it and bring it to life. It’s refreshing that being gay is entirely normal in this setting. I also loved the CSI aspect – Kelnaht and his assistant Brem use the materials at hand in the forest to create tools that ultimately confirm the killer’s identity.

There’s magic here too, of a subtle nature – Kelnaht’s truth-seeking/mind reading abilities, the Forester’s skill with growing things, and the mysterious Guide’s (think combination lawyer/therapist) skills that include calming people and making them sleep.

There are some explicit love scenes between the three men – they are beautifully rendered, but if you don’t like reading gay sex, just skip over them.

If I have any gripes here, they are minor. I love maps in fantasies, and didn’t get one here. *grumble grumble*. The author assures me there is one in the works. 🙂

I also wouldn’t have minded a little more world-building in terms of descriptions of the village and its surroundings. And there were a few times when Kelnaht met villagers he didn’t know, which I had a hard time believing given the apparent small size of the village.

But these are minor concerns. Arden weaves a beautiful and angsty tale of surprising depth, as Kelnaht struggles with his feelings for not one but two men, one of which he is banned from speaking to, and the other who left him under mysterious and hurtful circumstances. And there’s still a murder to be solved! I loved this story – highly recommended.

The Reviewer

Scott is the founder of Queer Sci Fi, and a fantasy and sci fi writer in his own right, with more than 30 published short stories, novellas and novels to his credit, including two trilogies.  

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